Updated: Mar 14
This was a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time. It could hardly be further from the walk I did in the extreme south west of Wiltshire in 2020 which you can find in my Blog entitled Searching for Kitt’s Grave. That part of the county is sandwiched between Hampshire and Dorset. This time my walking buddy Stu and I had travelled to the extreme north east of the county to visit a slice of Wiltshire cut into neighbouring Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, both of which this walk visits. But the reason for this walk, and the star attraction, is firmly in Wiltshire so we felt justified in travelling here.
We parked in Lechlade-on-Thames, which I’m afraid to admit is in Gloucestershire. If you wanted to avoid the trauma of entering Gloucestershire you could park in the pay and display car park on the A361 in the meadows south of the Thames. But having come this far we wanted to take a look at Lechlade.
Poor Lechlade is the junction of two busy main roads – the A417 and the A361. These roads meet just north of Halfpenny Bridge at a set of traffic lights. It was around 09:30 when we arrived so the worst of the traffic was gone but it was still horribly noisy, with few drivers bothering to obey the 30mph speed limit in these ancient streets. We headed north up the A361 looking for somewhere to park but roadside parking is limited to two hours so we continued a few hundred metres further until we saw a car park sign on our left. This turned out to be a great find. There is a large free car park at the Memorial Hall. It was almost empty as I suspect most people are too lazy to walk this far from the shops!
We headed back on foot the way we had come passing the usual multiple estate agencies common in these Cotswold towns. Just don’t look at the prices. As we rounded the corner heading back to the aforementioned traffic lights we stopped in our tracks outside a fabulous looking artisan bakers and café, a baker that specialises in sourdough. I’d seen this shop on TV somewhere. This was Sourdough Revolution. We gazed longingly into the window and I’m ashamed to admit we were sold. We entered and ordered coffee and cake. We had barely started the walk.
My sourdough bread pudding was spectacular as was Stu’s banana bread. As was our coffee! Whilst we sat quietly enjoying this late breakfast two elegant but casually clad 40 something ladies came in. One of them gazed in amazement at our cakes and eventually asked “What is that you’re eating?” She had the appearance of someone more used to champagne and smoked salmon. Banana bread was clearly something that she had not encountered before. Appearing to accept the answer, although none the wiser, they proceeded to discuss loudly in their braying upper class English accents what date the Eton half term was and how long they planned to spend in Cornwall once the kids had broken up from school. Just my kind of people! But don’t let that put you off. Don’t pass Sourdough Revolution without dropping in. The owner was super friendly and was really interested in our plans for the day, giving us some useful tips. He even offered to pack half my bread pudding up for me when my eyes were on stalks at the sheer size of it.
We staggered out of the café and continued on our way, re-crossing the Thames over Halfpenny Bridge (or Ha’penny Bridge as its called on the OS map). There is an old square toll house on the north side of the bridge where the toll of one half penny was once collected.
Having crossed the busy one lane, traffic light controlled bridge with The Riverside pub to our right, we descended to the Thames path, safely but briefly back in Wiltshire.
We followed the path westwards, upstream along the south bank of the Thames gazing across at the canal barges and the large houses overlooking the river beyond. A small basin/marina containing more of these boats was called Little London, suggesting the direction in which this Cotswold town looks. This was once the highest point on the Thames that laden barges could reach, and was a busy wharf for goods from as far away as Cheshire. The Thames path once again enters Gloucestershire as we headed for what is marked as Round House across the pleasant but pan flat meadows. The contrast between the almost silent canal boats and the roar of a giant C-17 RAF transport aircraft lifting off from nearby Brize Norton was stark.
The Round House was something of a shock. I’d read that it was a lock keepers house dating from the 1780s/90s. But it looked more like a Soviet era cooling tower. It was partially hidden behind a slightly dilapidated cottage on the opposite bank of the river and adjacent to the now disused Thames and Severn Canal, sandwiched between the rivers Thames and Coln. We were not unhappy about being unable to get closer! But a short distance away was our real goal, the site of the medieval village of Inglesham, again back in Wiltshire.
From the Round House what first strikes you is the manor house ahead that sits slightly above the water meadows. It has a quaintly lived in appearance with scarecrows and flags dotted all around the gardens. In the adjacent meadows are the faintest signs of earthworks that are all that remains of the medieval village. The tower and the exposed bells are the only signs at this point of the Church of St John the Baptist which is behind the manor as you approach from this direction. The footpath then emerges onto a track that takes you the short distance to the church.
St John the Baptist Church, Inglesham has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, although little remains from that time. The main structure visible today dates from the early 13th century. It was a favourite of Sir John Betjemin and was featured on the BBC TV series Churches: How to Read Them where it was selected as the broadcaster’s favourite amongst the many hundreds of churches in the English countryside.
We approached the porch of this squat, unassuming little church with some excitement. We were faced by what was little more than a series of ancient planks of wood jointed together. No heft of ancient solid oak here. I pushed, gently at first, at this outer door. It was stuck fast. I leaned my shoulder into it and the upper half gave a little. The door was catching on the uneven stone step so I lifted it clear and with a worrying scraping noise it slowly gave way to the porch within. Centuries of worshippers and visitors had descended these steps into the porch wearing a slight depression in the stone floor. Some had lingered to leave their mark by the way of graffiti carved into the stone bench. We were now faced by the more substantial inner door. I paused, half fearing that we would find it locked having travelled so far. But the latch lifted and I tentatively peered inside. I audibly gasped. I had read so much about this church but the sight that greeted me was beyond my expectations.
The interior of St John the Baptist Church was famously saved in the 19th century by local son William Morris from the puritanical vandalism of Victorian restorers. Instead of the usual plain lime washed walls of so many of our churches this church retains many of the original wall paintings, some of which date back to medieval times. The colours are faded but the original reds, blues, and golds are still evident, together with some barely legible ornate 19th century script. Fifteenth century wooden screens and lattice work remain in their original position, the wood worn and fragile. As do the 17th and 18th century pulpit and box pews, still much as they would have been in Oliver Cromwell's time.
Stu and I wandered and wondered in almost complete silence, trying to take in the full extent of what lay before us. Every nook and cranny seemed to contain something worthy of inspection. The brass tomb covering depicting a medieval knight in armour on the floor in front of the alter. The Saxon stone carving of the Madonna and Child set in the south wall, and the simple recording of a date, 1699, scratched into the plaster in a corner. Somehow graffiti like this seems more acceptable than “Harley luvs Chelsea”. Eventually the atmosphere was broken as three more visitors joined us. They chattered away to each other, clearly as much in awe as we were.
As we left the church, to the sight and sound of a helicopter hovering no more than 50 feet above the neighbouring meadow as its occupants inspected the power lines, Stu remarked that it had taken us nearly two hours to cover the one mile from Halfpenny Bridge. Just another four to go.
From the church we walked up the track to the A361. The walk I had found online suggested that we could simply cross the road en-route to our next target – Lynt Bridge. However a couple of houses blocked the way so we had to turn right and walk around two hundred metres on the wide grass verge on the far side of the road before we came to the lane that would take us to Lynt Bridge and beyond to Buscot Wick. Lynt Bridge is remarkable only for the fact that it crosses the little stream that marks the boundary between Wiltshire and Oxfordshire – our third county of the day. Once at Buscot Wick we turned left along the short stretch of road towards the farm and then right after a house with a tennis court. We followed the small circular right of way signs around cattle sheds that would lead us over fields and across the A417 to Buscot Weir.
Just before the weir we came to what I discovered to be the 17th century Buscot Old Parsonage. It was clear who had all the money in those days! In the gardens we could hear several American voices. A former occupant was Peter Francis Carew Stucley (1909–1964). In his will, Stucley specified that the house should be rented furnished to American citizens actively pursuing literary, artistic or academic studies. Stucley was an avid art collector, specialising in contemporary art of the 1950s and 60s. Apparantly the house contains several works of art and can be visited by written appointment.
Next to the Old Parsonage is the Church of St Mary the Virgin. It dates back to the 13th century but was restored by the Victorians. Unfortunately the church was closed so we contented ourselves with a brief look at the manicured church yard with its many yew trees. It didn’t feel like a very welcoming place, littered as it was with signs warning us not to do this that and the other. What a contrast with our little church at Inglesham.
Our final goal was Buscot Weir just beyond the church. There are a multitude of rights of way around here, some of which are National Trust trails. The National Trust owns nearby Buscot Park. We wended our way past a delightful little lock keepers cottage, aiming to cross the various locks and weirs to reach the north side of the Thames and the Thames path.
We stopped for a coffee and sandwich at a picnic bench by Buscot Lock before continuing along the Thames path towards the lock at St John’s Bridge, beyond which were views of the impressive looking Church of St Lawrence in the Market Place in Lechlade on the far side of the river. From here we simply followed the river back the kilometre or so to the Halfpenny Bridge, crossing once again into Wiltshire before re-entering Gloucestershire at Lechlade.
Lechlade was a funny sort of place. Its broad workaday streets meant that the traffic sped through it, the occupants of the cars barely giving the place a second glance. The inhabitants seemed wary and the cheerful greetings from two old blokes with rucksacks and beards were returned by awkward smiles. I would not have been surprised to have been run out of town by the sheriff. Being right on the edge of the Cotswolds and on the border of three counties it seemed uncertain as to its identity and lacking in confidence. It seemed neither quintessential Cotswolds nor Thames Valley.
As we returned to the car park at the Memorial Hall we noticed another enticing shop window. This was Cutler & Bayliss – butcher, greengrocer and deli. Once again we couldn’t resist. After a while I emerged clutching rye flour, a steak and kidney pie and a still warm sausage roll freshly baked in the kitchen at the rear. The day had ended as it had begun! If Lechalde lacks confidence then Sourdough Revolution and Cutler & Bayliss were both something of which the town should be proud.
At around five miles (eight kilometres) this is an easy walk across pan flat countryside. After rain I imagine parts of it could be pretty boggy. The walk could easily be extended or you could drive straight to the church at Inglesham where there is parking right outside. An alternative place to park and start this walk would be at The Church of St Mary the Virgin by Buscot Weir.
The countryside here was not really our cup of tea and at times I regretted not diverting to undertake another walk I have planned in the hills north of Marlborough. That would have been spectacular on a crisp sunny day such as this. But then we would not have seen St John the Baptist Church, a place I will always remember. I make no apologies for the number of photographs accompanying this Blog and would urge you to visit this almost unique place that Wiltshire can call its own.